For many years, Savannah has received more national press than a city of our size could reasonably expect.
Just consider USA Today’s “10 great American shopping streets,” which was published on May 5.
For this listicle, USA Today consulted Robert Giibbs, an urban planner at Harvard. Gibbs and USA Today didn’t rank the top 10, but it’s worth noting that Broughton Street is the first one mentioned in the article.
Gibbs and USA Today frame their selections by noting the resurgence of downtowns in many cities across America.
According to Gibbs, the shopping streets and districts in the article have “the X-Factor of Urbanism. Very cool, historic and filled with interesting shops and restaurants, surrounded with walkable neighborhoods.”
The resurgence of downtown shopping areas is being driven largely by lifestyle choices of younger Americans. For many young adults, car-dependent suburbs and exurbs are less appealing than they once were, while mixed-use older neighborhoods have become increasingly attractive.
Of course, the resurgence of Broughton Street isn’t due solely to demand from metro area shoppers. The ongoing tourism boom is a crucial factor here.
“This Southern coastal city, famous for its public squares and parks,” the article begins, “has one of the most vibrant downtowns in the nation, Gibbs says. In the last few years, its core has been transformed into a shopping and entertainment destination, marked by careful restoration.”
Yes, developer Ben Carter and others have invested many millions in restoration efforts in our downtown commercial district in recent years, but the street hasn’t been “transformed” so quickly. I started writing this column in 2000 in part because of the surge in investment on Broughton Street, including the opening of Gap and Banana Republic.
There were some slow years for Broughton Street, especially during and after the 2007-2009 recession, but the long-term trends have been positive for over 20 years.
Gibbs and USA Today spotlight an interesting example of the changes on Broughton Street: “Savannah Taphouse, partially owned by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The modern sports bar fits seamlessly in a former theater building.”
I like the casual, reasonably priced menu at Savannah Taphouse, and the interior is certainly well-designed, but it’s not the first place that comes to mind when I think about the big changes on Broughton Street so far in the 21st century.
Other shopping streets mentioned in USA Today’s interesting list can be found in Columbus, Ohio; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Greenville, S.C.; Petoskey, Mich.; Delray Beach, Fla.; Chatham, Mass.; Pasadena, Calif.; Philadelphia and Denver.
City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.